Three Generations of Dry-Fly Fishermen

Three Generations of Dry-Fly Fishermen

In the movie and the book, A River Runs Through It, the author quotes his father, a Presbyterian minister, about the different types of fly fishermen.

“He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume…that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.”

There is something extra special about fishing and catching fish on a dry fly. It is hard to explain to a non-fisherman or for that matter a fisherman that does not fly-fish. Maybe this story about my first trout on a dry might explain it for you and me.

I was fishing with my father at Nashoba Brook in Acton, MA one evening. We were fortunate enough to have our favorite pool to ourselves. We were fishing with the tried and true garden tackle–worms. We were catching absolutely nothing, but there was one trout consistently rising under the alder bushes on the lower left side of the pool.

I went into the back pocket of my fishing vest and pulled out an old Pflueger fly reel that my father had given me. I attached it to my 5.5-foot Horrock-Ibbotson ultralight fiberglass spinning rod that my father had purchased for me earlier that year from a department store on Washington Street in Boston. It was anything but a fly rod, but as soft as the action was, I thought I could make it work as a fly rod for this instance. My father looked on kind of puzzled at my actions, but said nothing. The fly line was silk, and the leader was catgut. Both were very old, and God only knows how long it had been since my dad used them last.

I had never used this reel ever before, nor had I ever cast a fly rod in my life in a fishing situation–only having practiced a time or too with my father’s 9-foot bamboo fly rod. I had already started to collect some flies, including a few I had tied with my father and had them in a old metal fly box. I knew I had a fly that would be a close match to the mayflies that were hatching. So I put on a Yellow Sally in about a size 12.

Yellow Sally

Yellow Sally

I made one cast and fell a few feet shy of my mark. My next cast was exactly where I wanted it. I watched without much expectation as the fly drifted right over the spot where the trout had been rising, and much to my surprise the fly suddenly disappeared in a splash. I instinctively set the hook, and the rainbow trout was airborne. I swear that my father was twice as excited as I was. He started repeatedly yelling, “Don’t horse him!”

And I could hear him scuffling around behind me. Finally, I brought the 12-inch trout to the net. Today that would barely be an average trout, but back then it was considered much better than the 8- or 9-inch average that trout were then. My dad was beside himself with joy. Repeatedly patting me on the back both physically and verbally. That was not the father that I knew on a daily basis.

That was where and when my passion began. Later that year, Dad gave me that bamboo fly rod for my 13th birthday. That’s right; I was 12 that day on Nashoba Brook. I have spent the rest of my life trying to repeat the perfection of that evening.

Fast forward 61 years, and I was introducing my grandson to this aspect of my life. With me was my son Tony, who had long ago become a believer and a skilled dry-fly fisherman. Tony and I were awaiting Ian’s arrival at the Androscoggin River that evening, and we were full of anticipation as we had several trout rising in front of us. I had not managed to interest a fish to an offering until I heard “Hi Grampy.” As I turned to acknowledge Ian’s salute, a brown trout took my fly.

Hooking a Fish Upon Ian's Arrival

Hooking a Fish Upon Ian’s Arrival

It was indicative of what was to follow. Ian was not set up, and the light was dimming fast so I offered him my rod, which had a Griffith’s Gnat on the business end. A little coaching from his grandfather, and soon Ian was into a trout. It was the first trout he’d caught on a dry fly since our 2011 trip to Montana. Tony, across the river, was into some fish of his own.

Tony's 11-Inch Brown Trout

Tony’s 11-Inch Brown Trout

As the darkness overtook the pool, the three of us had each landed a couple of browns each, and Ian and I managed a 14-inch salmon. It was the end of a perfect hour.

Day 2 started out with threatening skies, which worked very much in our favor. We were off to Upper Dam, which lies between Mooselookmeguntic Lake and Upper Richardson Lake. It was home to one the most famous fly tiers of all time, Carrie Stevens, the inventor of the Grey Ghost streamer and many others.

With all the history, and the fact that this place is well managed for both brook trout and landlocked salmon, it is exceedingly popular with the fly fishing community, as fly fishing is the only legal method of fishing here. In my many previous trips here, I have never had the place to myself–not even a minute. Ian’s luck continued to play out as that was exactly what we found when we arrived. I was shocked! I sent Ian down to the tail end of the pool, and he promptly caught a brookie and that would be followed by several others. Some were taken on my Village Pond Special (VPS) fly (a wet fly), some on dry flies.

Ian's 11-Inch Brook Trout

Ian’s 11-Inch Brook Trout

Tony was soon into a few brookies and a salmon, using my Grampy’s Copper Flash for one and dry flies for the rest.

Tony's 14-Inch Landlocked Salmon

Tony’s 14-Inch Landlocked Salmon

I managed two salmon and three brookies, all on dries.

My 14-Inch Landlocked Salmon

My 14-Inch Landlocked Salmon

Unfortunately the threatening skies cleared, and just like flicking a light switch, two things happened; the fishing came to a screeching halt and other fishermen started showing up. We quit while we were ahead, and we were very grateful to do so. It was the best couple of hours I ever spent in this beautiful and historic place, and I was very grateful to have shared it with my son and grandson.

Ian Casting at at Upper Dam

Ian Casting at at Upper Dam

So now came time to work. A main goal of this trip was to retrieve a boat that Tony and I had literally dragged into another famous place that I’ve written about before called Pond in the River. It was made famous by Louise Dickinson Rich and her 1942 book We Took to the Woods about her life there in the previous decades. Pond in the River has since become famous for its brook trout and salmon. A number of rules changes has made it impractical to keep the boat there any longer.

I remember distinctly that when Tony and I brought the boat in, Tony said “I’ll never take this thing out of here” because it was a very steep, rocky, and stump-strewn drag downhill. Well now that drag was going to be uphill!

Our Former Pond in the River Boat

Our Former Pond in the River Boat

I knew I was not going to be much help, so I settled in the truck for what I assumed was going to be a 30- to 50-minute wait as the boys went down to the pond to retrieve the boat. I was shocked when what seemed to be just a few minutes, I heard their voices. My first thought was one of them got injured. To my surprise, there they were, just 11 minutes later with the boat ready to go onto the trailer. I don’t know how they pulled it, off but they did.

I was so tired after the day’s events that I took the evening off. Tony and Ian put Tony’s square stern canoe in the Androscoggin River below the dam just before sunset. They caught a salmon and a brown but they were into the fallfish big time. They were all caught on dries.

Tony's 12-Inch Fallfish

Tony’s 12-Inch Fallfish

Part of my mission on this trip was to introduce Ian to these almost sacred fly-fishing waters so that he will have a lifetime to enjoy them and maybe he will think of me sometimes when he does. Next on the list was another very famous place known as

Camp Ten Bridge on the Magalloway River. Camp Ten Bridge is so famous in fact that if you look closely on most Maine maps it will be on there–in the middle of nowhere. When we arrived, I was not surprised to see five gentlemen, dressed right out of the Orvis catalog, taking a coffee break at their SUVs. I was sure that they had beaten the water to a froth and cast every conceivable fly into that beautiful pool, but I knew the fish in that pool had never seen a VPS. As I went down to the best spot in the pool to cast from I could almost hear the other fishermen saying “fat chance” under their breaths.

As Tony and Ian took up positions at the next pool down, I started casting my trusty VPS. On about the fifth cast, I felt a slight tap. I placed my next cast in the same spot, but retrieved my line at speed equal to the current so as to make the fly look like it was in a dead drift. I saw a flash of silver and instantly felt the strike. A split second later the fish, a salmon was airborne. I think it had to be in full view of the fishermen above me on the bridge, but I couldn’t look now. After a feisty battle, the 17-inch salmon was in my net and a moment later returned to his beautiful home. I turned to hear the SUVs pulling away. What’s that commercial say, “Like that, only better”? I’ve caught many nicer salmon, thankfully, in my life, but that one was special. Ian too put the VPS to use there. He caught a brookie in that second pool.

That evening we returned to the dam on the Androscoggin. Tony took top rod honors that night with a few browns and a salmon, and Ian caught a brookie. I played the role of observer and coach.

Tony's 14-Inch Landlocked Salmon

Tony’s 14-Inch Landlocked Salmon

The last day was devoted in part to reaching another goal. It is called Lincoln Pond. Each of the last three years, Tony and I have made serious attempts to reach this placePart of the problem was that topo maps showed several different roads that would get you close, but each year we would try one only to find it more impassable than the last.

Finally we had a good lead thanks to tips from a retired warden and a current fisheries biologist named Elizabeth. We were optimistic. The road was very treacherous, especially as we had some rain the night before.

That said, it proved to be shorter than the others that we tried. Elizabeth had described to a tee the “parking spot,” and but for Ian’s sharp eyes, we would have driven right by the few blades of flattened grass that indicated “the spot.” As close as we were to the pond, about 80 yards from the water, it was still hidden from view by the density of the trees. We finally reached our goal. It was beautiful, and there were signs that others had made the effort to get here too, but they had a distinct advantage. They left boats there, as we did at Pond in the River, but they got here to fish by using ATVs, hence making the treacherous ride much less so. They also fashioned lures out of Moxie soda cans.

Moxie Can Lure

Moxie Can Lure

As Tony put it, “What could be more Maine than that?” I guess they could have tipped the lures with whoopie pies!

Well after all this, we realized we could not be there under worse conditions, bright sun, cloudless and the moon was not right either.

Rub-a-Dub-Dub

Rub-a-Dub-Dub

The only fish we raised were some brookies taking cover in and around a beaver house. So we took solace in our victory of sort, but realized this was not the day that we had pinned our hopes on, and hastily, but not very quickly, retreated.

We made our way to Aziscohos Lake. There I would rest as Tony and Ian did some trolling at what was the worst part of the day on a day that was anything but suitable fishing conditions. Tony did manage a sizable fallfish among the several they caught.

Tony's 16.5-Inch Fallfish

Tony’s 16.5-Inch Fallfish

Well now it was time for Ian to depart. I hoped, and think, he enjoyed this nearly as much as I.

With only the evening left to fish, Tony and I headed back to the Androscoggin. Tony wanted to take a few fish home to eat, as he had some company coming and they were anxious to try some salmon and trout. Sometimes things just work out as you would like, unlike the Lincoln Pond experience. It was like ordering fish off of a menu. Tony caught two very nice (and legal size) salmon of 17 and 18 inches.

Tony's 18-Inch Landlocked Salmon

Tony’s 18-Inch Landlocked Salmon

I added a 13-inch brown trout out of the several that I caught that evening.

Trout and Salmon for Dinner

Trout and Salmon for Dinner

Again it was dry-fly fishing at its best. It was a perfect way to end a perfect trip with two treasured fishing partners.

WLAGS

 

 

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A Plan and a Whim

A Plan and a Whim

On our last day, we made plans to fish a small and somewhat difficult pond to reach. On the drive there, we had the pleasure of seeing a cow moose kneel down right beside our truck to drink while her calf (a young bull with knobs on his head) whimpered like a dog. He was more concerned about our presence than she was.

Cow Moose Drinking with Baby Bull

Cow Moose Drinking with Baby Bull

That was quite a sight, and it was a great way to start our morning. Now on to that remote pond. It would require carrying the boat and all the equipment over a fairly steep, rock-strewn and root-covered trail.

Heavy Lifting

Heavy Lifting

As usual, Tony did most of the heavy lifting as we dragged his 15-foot canoe and all the necessary equipment to the pond. And thanks to the cold, wet spring we had, the black flies were mixed in with the mosquitoes, even though it was Father’s Day weekend, not Mother’s Day weekend when you’d normally see black flies.

We made our way to the brush-choked shore. It was worth it almost for the view. It’s a gorgeous little pond, even by Maine standards. We were anxious to get started.

Can't Beat the View

Can’t Beat the View

The weatherman had promised an overcast day and maybe even a little drizzle. No such luck! As soon as we launched, the sun broke out of what turned out to be a cloudless sky, and the temperature shot up; not exactly the prime conditions we were hoping for.

We did as well as could be expected, catching my first creek chub, and a few small brookies–both stocked and native.

My First Creek Chub

My First Creek Chub

We lunched on the porch of the only camp on the lake.

A Rustic Camp

A Rustic Camp

It was a throwback in time in its structure and what passed for furniture and equipment. The only access is by boat or across the ice. It looked like it had not been used in several years, but one can only imagine the many wonderful days and nights spent there by so many hopeful hunters and fishermen.

A Hopeful Fisherman

A Hopeful Fisherman

Of note was the cardboard cutout, which was often done back then so you could eat your catch, of a 17-inch brookie with the date and name of the lucky fisherman and the fly. After lunch, we left our respite and headed across the pond to our truck to make ready for an evening of fishing.

After a hearty supper, we started to head for one of the more famous rivers when I once again got a whim. I turned to Tony, as we passed a stretch of a river that looked great and suggested that we drop the canoe in there.

It is one of those places that is very difficult to wade, and it is almost impossible to cover all of the good water with a fly rod.

So we dragged the canoe down yet another steep, rocky bank, and we launched. This worked out great. The darker it got, the more fish rose, and we had a great night of dry fly fishing.

Landlocked Salmon

Landlocked Salmon

We landed five salmon and one brook trout, and one rainbow trout, along with the odd fallfish and smallmouth bass.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout

Again a whim paid off!

WLAGS

Better than a Well-Laid Plan

Better than a Well-Laid Plan

Sometimes a whim is better than a well-laid plan. We had planned to fish the Magalloway River, but we were skeptical about the number of fishermen, having seen so many on the Androscoggin yesterday. We figured that river would be crazy with fishermen this morning, but the weather was just bad enough that maybe some would not venture out so early.

But we decided to stop at the dam anyway. We were encouraged when we didn’t see any cars parked there, but as it turns out a couple of guys walked there. One of them had the premier spot, but we decided to give it a shot at a couple of the lesser places to cast from.

I got there a little before Tony, and I took a lower position and motioned Tony to one of the outlets as he approached.

On his first cast I could see that he was into a fish–a little smallmouth. That was quickly followed by a nice perch.

Yellow Perch

Yellow Perch

A few minutes later, as the rain picked up in intensity, I watched as his rod doubled over and then started throbbing almost violently.

I was sure at that point that it was brook trout, and by the bend in his six-weight rod, I knew that it was a good fish. After a few minutes, Tony called down to me that it was in fact a brookie.

Then I saw its head come out of the water and saw the distance between its dorsal fin and tail, and I knew I needed to get up there. Tony always fishes with barbless hooks, and that can come back to bite you when dealing with brook trout because of their head-shaking tactic.

Even the other fishermen knew that this was something special because they stopped fishing and even offered their assistance, which included a measuring tape.

Finally Tony managed to get it to the net. It was a gorgeous 17-1/2” brookie. Other than our Labrador trip, this fish rated the biggest on his all-time list of brook trout.

Tony's 17.5-Inch Brook Trout

Tony’s 17.5-Inch Brook Trout

With a little gentle handling and a chance to recover, the trout was back where he belonged, in the river.

Tony had taken all the fish on this trip thus far, on a fly he tied himself several years ago, a small, dark streamer.

So I headed back down to my spot and immediately tied on the same fly. A nice brown trout found it to his liking on my first cast.

The rain was coming down even harder now. It was the kind of day that if you were inside, you probably would not go out, but once you were out, what the heck; what’s getting a little more wet and cold? It certainly was putting our rain gear to the test.

We caught several more fish, including a couple of nice bass, but as the rain let up, so did the fishing.

My 15-Inch Smallmouth Bass

My 15-Inch Smallmouth Bass

When the rain finally stopped, you would not have known that there was a fish in the river.

We then turned our attention to fishing with my friend Brian that evening. Brian is almost a legend in these parts. He grew up north of the Notches, and knows the woods, lakes, and rivers of this area of N.H. and Maine.

He is also a guide and specializes in moose, both for hunting and photography. He has taken photos of moose that ended up in many magazines.

Brian met us at Lake Umbagog at about 5:30 PM, and we jumped into his 21’ 250 HP boat and were ready for action.

Brian and I in His Speed Machine

Brian and I in His Speed Machine

I must admit that I never went 60 MPH on freshwater before, but that’s what we were doing in what seemed like seconds.

We covered the 10+ miles to our spot in about 10 minutes. I trip that with my 40 HP motor, would have taken me twice that if I dared to go full throttle, and I wouldn’t do that.

We got some nice photos of a mated pair of eagles.

Mated Pair of Bald Eagles

Mated Pair of Bald Eagles

Despite Brian’s intimate knowledge of the lake, the fishing was tough. We managed only a few decent  bass (all caught by Brian), a few respectable pickerel, and perch, and that was that. So even with an expert and the best equipment, sometimes the fish win.

Brian with a Smallmouth

Brian with a Smallmouth

WLAGS

 

Things That End Well

Things That End Well

Instead of being on the road for our annual Father’s Day week fishing trip, I found myself in the E.R. with a bad case of dehydration. After being treated with a bag of saline, I was discharged and told to rest for 24 hours.

Heading to the ER

Heading to the ER

Thus our trip started out a day late, and we would have to revise our plans, at least slightly. We were going to try to stick to a few goals we had set.

After arriving at our cabin at midafternoon, we made our way to a boat that we had left at the famous Pond in the River.

Our Boat at Pond in the River

Our Boat at Pond in the River

It was a beautiful day, but a bit breezier than we would have liked.

We reached our destination, the northeast end of the mile-and-half-long pond with about two hours of light left.

Like almost everything about this trip so far, things started off slowly. When I was seriously thinking about starting the long trek back, Tony suddenly hooked up. We knew instantly that it was a salmon, as it was spending almost as much time in the air as it did in the water. After a great battle, we released it.

Tony's 14-Inch Salmon

Tony’s 14-Inch Salmon

Not long after that, Tony hooked up again. Another salmon, and it too had fallen for a fly that Tony had tied himself many years ago.

The light was dimming quickly, but I told Tony to try for another minute. Sure enough, two casts later, he hooked and landed another salmon—no easy task on a single, barbless hook, which is required at Pond in the River. That was last call, as it was almost dark.

Tony's Last-Cast Salmon

Tony’s Last-Cast Salmon

We had a lightweight battery that we used because of the rugged trail we needed to negotiate. Could that battery stand up to a stiff 10- to 15-mph wind that was now blowing right down the chute at us? Well, we may have overheated that little battery, but it got us back to the truck about 45 minutes later.

Our Sunset View on the Ride Home

Our Sunset View on the Ride Home

We hoped that this start to our trip, although brief, was a sign of things to come.

More to follow.

WLAGS

Remote Pond Boat Extraction

Remote Pond Boat Extraction

Three years ago, Tony, his dog, Angie, and I made a mission out of dragging a boat into a remote trout pond that we had fished a few times with success in our float tubes.

Dragging the Boat in Three Years Ago

Dragging the Boat in Three Years Ago

The thought was with a boat in place, we would fish it more often, if for no other reason than we would not have to deal with carrying in the float tubes and inflating them. Well, it didn’t work out that way. As it turned out, we never went back, except to check on the boat. It also turned out  that other people had taken advantage of our efforts. They broke the lock off by twisting the chain, and they obviously used the boat more than once. They twisted the chain so badly that we needed the same bolt cutters that we used the day before to detach it from the boat.

Twisted Chain

Twisted Chain

Well, we now had better ideas for the boat. As he described in his blog, in the fall, Tony could use it at home to access some bowhunting spots that are along a river, and my grandson, Ian could use it for fishing all summer.

So now it was up to us and Tony’s new dog, Bear to get it out of the pond. In both of our trips, it was necessary to make benefit of snow cover to make the dragging easier. At first, this trip was was made more difficult by a coating of ice on the snow’s surface. It was very slippery, especially in the shaded and steep areas. We had to pick our way carefully and more slowly than we had hoped.

Icy Ledges Slowed Us Down

Icy Ledges Slowed Us Down

 

When we reached the boat, it was mostly uncovered from the snow. With a little work, we were able to free it, and when we did it became obvious that it had suffered a little damage. I could see light coming from rivet holes under at least one of the seats. Other than that, it looked as though it would serve our purposes. I’ll patch any holes this spring.

How We Found the Boat Three Years Later

How We Found the Boat Three Years Later

So the trek out began.

Dragging the Boat Up and Out

Dragging the Boat Up and Out

 

The good news was that in the 30 minutes that we readied for our exit, the high sun had softened the snow, despite the subfreezing temperatures. The trip out was significantly less slippery.

The first third of the trip was steeply slanted up and to our left as we made our way through the beech trees on the south facing slope.

 

After that, the biggest problem was not getting hit by the boat as it slid down the steep slopes and avoiding a myriad of boulders. It was a lot of work in a fairly short period of time.

Steep Steps

Steep Steps

 

When we finally reached the truck, Bear did not need much coaching to get in the back seat. She would sleep the entire way home.

 

And after the effort we all put in the day before to relocate the tree stand, we were tired too. It was a good way  to utilize a mid-winter weekend, hopefully to the benefit of many summer and fall weekends to come.

WLAGS

 

Labrador Part 6: Hike, Pull, Catch, Soar, and Dive

Labrador Part 6: Hike, Pull, Catch, Soar, and Dive

Day 5 of Fishing

July 1, 2016

When we got going on Friday we were once again put in the very capable hands and feet of Simon. We headed to the lower portions of the McKenzie River because no one else had fished those sections yet this season. These sections are extremely important in August and less so in July. It would also require our longest walk and the most boat changes of our entire trip.

Simon was up and off right on time with us in tow. It is more difficult to negotiate the narrow trails with fly rods, waders, bugs, and mud. Thankfully some of the mud had dried up since our initial hike on Monday. Our trip took us through some of the nicest country and beautiful water of the entire week.

One of the Beautiful Stretches of the McKenzie We Fished

One of the Beautiful Stretches of the McKenzie We Fished

We noticed that the further we walked downstream the fewer insects and even fewer bait fish we were seeing. The water seemed cooler too. That all seemed to contribute to a lack of game fish. We fished one great looking stretch and pool after another.

"We fished one great looking stretch and pool after another."

“We fished one great looking stretch and pool after another.”

All we managed were three pike–another indication that the water was cooler and that the brookies in particular were not going to be sharing the water with those toothy critters.

"All we managed were three pike."

“All we managed were three pike.”

We did see and Tony did get some awesome photos of the eagle at Elbow Pool.

The Eagle Didn't Like Us Being Near Its Nest

The Eagle Didn’t Like Us Being Near Its Nest

The Eagle Returning to Its Perch

The Eagle Returning to Its Perch

So we reluctantly started our trek upstream, which included Simon having to pull the canoe upstream for 100 yards or more. Not an easy task even under the best of conditions.

Simon Pulling the Canoe Upstream with Us in It

Simon Pulling the Canoe Upstream with Us in It

We were tired and admittedly a little discouraged when we reached Salmon Pool, and Simon perked up as he spotted a “nice” brookie rising in the middle of the pool. He set up Tony in position to best reach the fish. This fish was going to be a real challenge. It was obvious that this fish was going to be very fussy about the fly and its presentation. It took some time, but finally the fish took Tony’s presentation and a great battle ensued. In the end he was netted. A beautiful 19-inch, 3.5-pound brookie. It took the edge off a tiring and somewhat disappointing day.

Tony's 19-Inch, 3.5-Pound Brook Trout

Tony’s 19-Inch, 3.5-Pound Brook Trout

Just as we were about to leave, Simon noticed another trout rising almost in the same spot. So I was up, and having Tony’s fish taking a liking to Tony’s fly, I used his rod. This fish, like Tony’s, was very fussy about presentation, and it took a few casts to get it just right. Eventually I did get the presentation right, and he took the fly. It was another fish that was greatly appreciated, even in this river of monsters. My fish was just shy of 19” and 3.5#.

Another Beautiful Brookie

Another Beautiful Brookie

 

Both of these trout would have been our biggest brookies of all time before this trip.

I then managed a smaller salmon to cap things off.

The rest of the trek up river and back to camp was much more enjoyable because of Simon’s sharp eye and those beautiful fish.

After dinner, we witnessed the “contest” that Andrew and JP had going. They had challenged each other to dive into Andre Lake each night that they spent there in 2016. We all ran down to the dock to watch them brave the chilly waters. The water in the lake had *warmed up to* 53 degrees Fahrenheit by today, July 1. Imagine the temperatures when they arrived on June 12, the day that the ice went out on the lake.

Zula Watches JP and Andrew After Their Dive Into Andre Lake

Zula Watches JP and Andrew After Their Dive Into Andre Lake

After that excitement, Burt said, “I bet I know where you are going tomorrow.” He was right. Nothing short of Hell or high water would stop us from going back to the Quartzite!

WLAGS

Labrador Part 5: Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

Labrador Part 5: Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

Day 4 of Fishing

June 30, 2016

Thursday was a challenge. The weather was gray and windy, and we were headed for the Comeback River. It is more than an hour’s ride north in the biggest canoe with the 20 HP motor at full throttle. Tony and I questioned Burt’s suggestion about making this trip, but he assured us it was a good bet. We could see plainly that the wind was coming out of the south, and we knew getting there would not be much of an issue. We also knew that if the winds did not lie down, coming back could be another matter.

Smooth Sailing With the Wind

Smooth Sailing With the Wind

So we packed our gear and got into the boat with JP as our guide. It was clear to us that the further we went up the lake, the waves were building at our stern. After an hour, we reached Montgomery narrows, and JP turned to us and expressed his doubt about going through the narrows. His fear was that we would be sheltered on the other side and not see the waves building. We agreed.

He suggested that we troll right where we were. We agreed again and tried, but the waves were already too much to handle comfortably. We knew the ride back was going to be longer and wetter than the ride was to get there. After a few tempered attempts to troll, we headed back south towards camp. It was a very slow, wet, and bumpy ride, with JP having to cut across many of the larger waves. Finally, we could see camp, after more than an hour of getting battered to and fro.

Now we took a lunch break, and for one of the few times, we did that at the lodge. After lunch, under drizzly skies, JP suggested that we troll at the mouth of the McKenzie River. As we got about 200 yards from the mouth, in about five feet of water, we could see boulders all around us, and after only a few minutes, my rod doubled over. It was obvious from the first few seconds that this was a very large fish. Then the fish made four runs that put me over 100 yards into my backing.

The Fish Made Four Runs

The Fish Made Four Runs

He or she was towing us. I got most nervous when we found ourselves in only a foot or two of water with boulders everywhere you looked. Finally, after somewhere between 20 and 25 minutes, we had the fish parallel to the boat just inches below us in two feet of water. We all looked in amazement at its size. My first thought was “We’re going to need a bigger net!” Even JP was in awe. He was as excited as we were, for sure. Slowly I guided the fish towards the net, JP slipped the net under the fish, and there was much rejoicing…high fives, cameras flashing, and all of us in awe.

The Biggest Laker Our Guide Had Ever Seen

The Biggest Laker Our Guide Had Ever Seen

We were surprised when JP said it was the biggest laker he had ever seen as well as the biggest fish he had ever heard of being landed at camp. He guessed the laker was 25 or more years old, maybe even 30. JP’s best guess was that it weighed 15 pounds. That beats my previous biggest laker by almost 6 pounds. We measured the fish against my hockey stick-turned-wading staff since we didn’t have a measuring tape in the canoe. When we got back to camp, we measured JP’s mark to see that the fish measured 33 inches. That fish took the sting out of a disappointing morning.

Measuring Against My Bauer "Wading Staff"

Measuring Against My Bauer “Wading Staff”

A few minutes later I hooked a smaller, 19-inch laker, which by comparison felt like a sunfish. I actually had Tony land it for me because my arms were beat from the estimated 20-minute fight with the 33-incher.

19-Inch Lake Trout

19-Inch Lake Trout

I’m here to tell you that anyone that disparages the fighting ability of a lake trout, has never caught one in a few feet of 50-degree water on a fly rod. I can’t imagine that any 15-pound striper has ever given more of a battle than that 15-pound laker did. By the way, I actually caught both of these lakers on a striper fly with a saltwater hook.

My Striper Fly Worked Great on Lakers Too

My Striper Fly Worked Great on Lakers Too

After catching a nice pike while trolling, we decided to stretch our legs by wading and casting for some pike. It was ridiculously easy fishing. You would make a cast, usually with a popper, and if you didn’t get a hit immediately; then all you had to do was make like you were bluefish fishing (that is, strip really fast and erratically) and you would be on. There was literally a pike every 10 feet of shoreline that we waded.

One of Many Two-Foot Northern Pike

One of Many Two-Foot Northern Pike

Most of the pike were about two feet long, a few were bigger, and a rare one was smaller. Almost every one had scars on them where another pike, a lake trout, an eagle, a mink, or an otter tried to eat them.

All of the Pike Had Injuries

All of the Pike Had Injuries

I think I caught about six, and Tony caught more than that in very short order. It was great to see this big, toothy mouth come up behind your popper just a few feet away and engulf it. We missed many because the strikes were so startling, and that threw off your timing of the hook set.

When we got our fill of pike fishing, Tony and JP waded over to the “Jugs” to see whether any fish were hanging out there. The Jugs are a couple of white plastic bottles anchored at the end of the camp’s peninsula to mark the channel leading into the McKenzie River. That day, while we fished in waders at the Jugs, Joe Jr. was with Burt, fishing the mouth of the McKenzie in the pontoon boat.  

The wind slowed, a few caddis started hatching, and a few fish began rising in the channel. Tony had his target. After a number of casts, Tony hooked into a huge salmon that jumped and snapped his leader. I told him, “I know you’re excited, but when they jump…” “I have to bow to them,” Tony finished my sentence. “That’s right,” I said.

After missing several more takes on his dry fly, Tony eventually hooked up again. Each time the fish came to the surface, Tony bowed. He had learned his lesson. However, this fish never jumped all the way out of the water. Eventually we decided that this fish was not anything that we had previously encountered. The fish had taken a relatively small dry fly, which ruled out a pike and made it very unlikely to be a laker. Although it was giving Tony what for, it was not shaking its head very much, which ruled out a brook trout.

JP Prepares to Net Tony's Mystery Fish

JP Prepares to Net Tony’s Mystery Fish

As the battle lingered on, it became obvious to JP that it was a whitefish…very much sought after here for their taste for dries and their taste in the frying pan. You have to be careful when playing them or even setting the hook on one, as their mouths are very soft and the hooks will pull out very easily. I knew that this was bigger, by far, than any whitefish that I had ever seen, never mind caught. JP caught the end of the long fight on Tony’s GoPro.

I got a photo or two, and Joe Jr. got some great photos from his seat in the pontoon boat.

One of Joe Jr.'s Great Photos from the Pontoon Boat

One of Joe Jr.’s Great Photos from the Pontoon Boat

When the fish came to the net it was in fact, by my standards, a large lake whitefish at about 20 inches and 4 pounds.

20-Inch, 4-Pound Lake Whitefish

20-Inch, 4-Pound Lake Whitefish

Now Tony was only a salmon and a laker shy of the McKenzie River grand slam.

Tony Releases the Whitefish

Tony Releases the Whitefish

During dinner that night, Tony, JP, Joe, and I, talked about all the salmon and whitefish that were rising to Tony’s fly. This got everyone excited to do some dry fly fishing around sunset…sunset being at 10:50 PM!

JP and Zula Heading Out

JP and Zula Heading Out

After dinner, Tony,  JP, Zula, and even Andrew, and I took a canoe to the top section of the McKenzie to cast some dry flies.

JP, Zula, Andrew, and I in the Canoe

JP, Zula, Andrew, and I in the Canoe

True to form, Simon was already there when we got there. Soon after we arrived, Simon caught a brookie and a salmon. It was such a gorgeous night that Tony was torn between fishing and taking photographs. The lack of wind was a nice change from that morning, but the mosquitoes were awful!

Andrew Fishing a Gorgeous Night on the McKenzie

Andrew Fishing a Gorgeous Night on the McKenzie

We got schooled by the guides that night, but it was a pleasure to watch the guides work their craft. Simon is a fantastic caster. He can cast an entire fly line with relative ease. He muscles his way through the line, and he’s rewarded with lots of fish. Andrew’s cast is like butter. His considerable height gives him an advantage over Simon, but clearly Andrew has worked to perfect his naturally smooth, effortless cast. Andrew came up empty that night though, as did we.

JP outsmarts the fish. He wades far, casts short (though he can no doubt cast as far as he wants), and most importantly, he watches the water and the insects. He caught several caddisflies and inspected them closely. He then matched that hatch. Finally, he watched the water like a hawk to pick up on the patterns of the rising fish. His homework paid big dividends. Despite being distracted by a lifejacket-wearing Zula, JP caught more fish than anyone…brookies, salmon, and even a whitefish.

Zula Visiting JP

Zula Visiting JP

He captured a nice video of his whitefish with Tony’s GoPro.

The canoe ride home made for some beautiful views of the setting sun, which takes a long, long time to set this time of year this far north.

The Beginning of a Long Sunset

The Beginning of a Long Sunset

It was a long day, not the best day by far, but the fish we caught were nice ones, and you just can’t beat the views.

Indescribable Views at Sunset

Indescribable Views at Sunset

WLAGS